Umeå Centre for Global Health Research
Umeå Centre for Global Health Research – working together globally to meet health challenges
Global health is a field at the intersection of several disciplines – demography, public health sciences, epidemiology, medicine, economics, statistics and sociology – and builds on the awareness that health is a basic human right and a global public good. It is determined by factors beyond national boundaries, such as international trade, climate change, pollution and poverty, and therefore relies on a complex balance of national and global approaches to identify and implement health solutions. The Umeå Centre for Global Health Research (CGH) is a Centre of Excellence within Umeå University, which operates within the Division of Epidemiology and Public Health Sciences. CGH was set up in 2007 through a grant from FAS, the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (grant no. 2006-1512), supported by co-funding from the University.
The Centre’s overall mission is to engage with and address a global agenda on health research and practice, and facilitate collaboration between and within the North and South. The original proposal outlined two major divisions of research – theoretical and methodological developments for the practice of public health, and health systems facing new health threats – that comprised of eight sub-themes. Due to commonality of interests and individuals between these sub-themes, as well as some new thinking, much of 2008 has been spent consolidating the original long-term research plans into five key research themes:
Theme I: The epidemiological transition – by contrasting disadvantaged communities in low-income countries such as Ethiopia, Vietnam, Indonesia and South Africa to the well-developed setting of northern Sweden, research aims to further understand and contribute methodologically to theories of epidemiological transition. Work within this theme continues to strengthen the Division’s links with INDEPTH (www.indepth-network.org) to measure risk factors, health and morbidity and mortality in the network’s numerous health and demographic surveillance sites. Research on non-communicable disease risk-factor surveillance in Asia continues, as does our involvement with the World Health Organisation’s Study on Adult Health and Ageing (SAGE). Work is ongoing to develop and apply InterVA (www.interva.net) as a standardised alternative to verbal autopsy interpretation in an attempt to better understand mortality patterns in diverse rural settings.
Theme II: A life-course perspective on health interventions – Research focuses on the design and evaluation of health interventions that target different stages of the life course, from the unborn child to old age. Results to date illustrates the potential of the life-course approach for building evidence on associations between lifestyle and other risk factors at early ages and health outcomes in later life. This approach also enables us to study the contribution of different social, cultural and environmental factors to health and disease.
Work is ongoing with the Child-Health Intervention Programme in Västerbotten (Salut) and the Västerbotten Intervention Programme (VIP) to provide trend analyses of major risk factors, and to identify patterns across gender and age. At the end of 2008 we were awarded a 5-year grant as part of the Swedish Initiative for Research on Microdata in the Social and Medical Sciences (SIMSAM), to establish register-based interdisciplinary research on the future of childhood and welfare in collaboration with colleagues from sociology, statistics, cultural geography and environmental medicine.
Theme III: Strengthening primary health care: the roles of rights, ethics and economic analyses – research uses rights-based approaches integrated with economic analyses to inform key stakeholders involved in primary health care in low-, middle- and high-income countries. Encouraging responses have been received from many research partners, including the Vietnamese Ministry of Health, who have given top priority to our research initiative on health care for the elderly in that country, and stakeholders in Guatemala and Tanzania, where ongoing processes of decentralisation are giving new room for participation with regard to local health governance. Studies are underway that focus on elderly health care in South-East Asia and Sweden, district level priority-setting in sub-Saharan Africa, and citizen participation and indigenous primary health care in Latin America. (Facebook page)
Theme IV: Gender, social inequality and health – research aims to contribute to social changes within populations and health systems, by generating new knowledge and better understanding of the relation between gender and health. Ongoing research shows that sexual and reproductive health and rights remain unfavourable for adolescents and young women in low-income settings and welfare societies such as Sweden. Health professionals need to be educated in these issues, and suitable interventions are required within health contexts to empower women experiencing gender-based violence. Quantitative and qualitative studies continue on smoking habits, gender stereotyping and the design of smoking cessation programmes, as does research on intimate partner violence and domestic violence in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia.
Theme V: Climate change and health – Tackling climate change for a sustainable and healthy future. The primary objective of this research group is to increase knowledge and understanding of the links between climate change and health. Specifically, this group studies climate change health impacts, adaptation measures to avoid harmful impacts, as well as the effects of climate change mitigation and promotion of health co-benefits. Much of the group’s research investigates the role of weather and climate factors for infectious and non-communicable diseases and mortality. We are particularly interested in the health of elderly and other vulnerable groups, and are involved in a range of research projects in Kenya, India, Indonesia and other low and middle income countries. Global warming is felt most by occupational groups such as sugar crane workers in these hot countries, which is reflected in the scope of our work too (HOTHAPS network). Several studies are conducted in Sweden and the Arctic region, some stretching over several centuries, with a focus on elderly people, others on indigenous populations. Each year we attend as independent observers the UN climate meetings (COP), and are working on policy development and adaptation research in the field of climate change and global health. We contribute to a large EU-funded project on dengue fever (http://www.denguetools.net/), have close connections to the INDEPTH network (http://www.indepth-network.org/), and have contributed to the ISI-MIP project (www.isi.mip.org). The website of the climate change and global health groups can be found at www.climateandhealth.net. Theme members have been guest editors and authors of the Centre’s journal of Global Health Action (www.globalhealthaction.net) for several supplements on climate and health.
Investments have been made to communicate the work of CGH and raise its profile amongst key audiences. CGH’s website (www.globalhealth research.net) continues to be developed, and is being used as a tool alongside our brochure, media engagement, external websites, targeted mailings and representation at relevant conferences to market the Centre amongst existing and new contacts. The Centre’s brochure is available to download from our website.
A major asset of CGH is our international peer-reviewed open access journal, Global Health Action (www.globalhealthaction.net). Launched in May 2008, GHA seeks to contribute to fuelling a more concrete, hands-on approach to global health challenges. The Centre’s capacity-building efforts and inclusive nature is embedded in the journal through mentorship opportunities offered to authors and its open access model. GHA particularly welcomes articles from low- and middle-income countries, as well as those stemming from South-South and South-North research collaborations. It its first year GHA has published fifteen articles and one supplement, and continues to attract topical and rigorous submissions. A highlight for this year is our theme issue ‘Heat and Health’. GHA is published in association with open access publisher Co-Action Publishing (www.co-action.net).